Back on November 13, 2013, the Houston Rockets travelled to Philadelphia to take on what, at the time, we could call an "upstart" Philadelphia 76ers squad.
Given that all indications in the offseason had been that they were aligning themselves to be so terrible that they would practically be hoarding ping pong balls in the NBA Lottery, the Sixers' having a 4-4 record headed into that game was seen as something of a minor miracle.
The Rockets, on the other hand, harbored dreams of an NBA title, as they continued to try and assimilate their new, shiny center Dwight Howard into a mix with James Harden and others.
That night, the Sixers, behind a triple double from Tony Wroten, defeated the Rockets 123-117 in overtime. The result left both teams at 5-4 on the season.
I'd say that the road for both teams most certainly diverged in the woods from that point.
Yeah, both teams were 5-4, theoretically (well, mathematically, at least) equals at that point. But have you ever gone to school with identical twins who look exactly the same in grade school and junior high? Then they move away and you see them at some sort of 20 year reunion, and one of the twins has been cross training for the last 20 years and the other has been smoking weed and eating pizzas and Ring Dings?
Yeah, they're not really identical anymore, are they?
Since that game in November, the Sixers have been feasting on a steady diet of basketball pizza and Ring Dings. Oh, also losses. That whole tanking thing we discussed earlier? They've gotten really good at that. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that they're the best at it, and tonight at Toyota Center, they get to prove it when they attempt to tie the NBA record for consecutive futility with their 26th consecutive loss.
For the record, since that game in November, the Rockets have gone 43-18, and appear primed for a lengthy playoff run. The Sixers? 10-54 and primed for a seat at the front row at May's draft lottery.
The Rockets' will likely be favored tonight by 20 points or more, depending on if Howard plays. He reportedly banged knees with a teammate at practice, and may sit out tonight's game. With the Clippers on the horizon this Saturday, that's probably not a bad idea. Truth be told, the Rockets could probably start Clutch at center, and hold a pre-game lottery where they pick a fan to play two guard, and they'd still cover the number.
Certainly, consecutive loss number 26 appears to be a formality for Philly. In fact, the Sixers may not win another game this season. (Their best chance would appear to be a home game against the Pistons this weekend.)
Far less of a formality is the Sixers becoming good at basketball again, even if they do wind up with the first pick in the 2014 draft.
The record they're about to break for consecutive losses belongs to the 2010-2011 post-LeBron Cleveland Cavaliers. That team wound up with the first and fourth picks in the 2011 draft, and it's inarguable that they got the first pick right, drafting this season's All Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving. (With the benefit of hindsight, they'd probably go with Klay Thompson or Kahwi Leonard with the fourth pick instead of Tristan Thompson. Or maybe Chandler Parsons, who everybody missed on that year.)
So the Cavs got easily the best player in that post apocalyptic 2011 draft, which in theory, the Sixers are trying to in 2014, right? Yet since 2011, the Cavs have gone on to pick fourth (Dion Waiters) and first overall again (Anthony Bennett, yuck) the next two drafts (i.e. they continued to suck), and still sit at 10th place in the worst Eastern Conference of my lifetime.
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My point is tanking holds no guarantees, even when it actually works.
(One sidebar: The pick that the Cavs used on Irving in 2011 was actually acquired in a trade with the Clippers along with Baron Davis for Mo Williams and Jamario Moon. Kind of an underrated dipshit Clippers move that gets forgotten because they're now good. The fourth pick was the Cavs' selection. So, in theory, the tanking itself didn't even work for the Cavs, they just happened to fleece the Clippers for the pick that became Irving. And even when that pick did work, well.....)
The road back to relevance, short of stumbling into LeBron James, is a long one with many painful potholes. Tonight the beatings continue for the Philadelphia 76ers.